Between the Darkness and Light

by Talya Firedancer

Part Twenty-three

It was growing dark in Xavier's study and Scott knew he would have to leave soon before someone came looking for him, but still he lingered. Being here reminded him of the man who had filled his life with everything he had, and was now gone. It was an ache, but right now that was a good ache. He would never forget, but for now the simple reminders of the man's presence helped to let go without unraveling. Scott pushed aside a stack of contracts and loose ends he'd been tidying up for the past few days and put his pen down. He was surprised to realize the light was all but gone.

As if that were a cue or summoning, the study lights flicked on and Scott's gaze traveled from desk and papers to the door. Ororo stood just inside it, her hand still on the light switch, her face turned in his direction and eyes watchful.

"Scott," she said, civil, cautious.

"Ororo," he replied, in a like manner.

Her lips stretched in a semblance of a smile and she walked into the room, hands resting loosely, open-palm, on her thighs. "You'll strain your eyes, working like that into the late hours."

"Thanks for your concern," he replied, bending his head ever so slightly, keeping his eyes - his face - oriented on her.

The attempt at a friendly expression vanished and Ororo was scowling, hands curling into fists at her hips. "You don't have to be like that, Scott, I came to see how you are."

Scott pushed back from his desk and stood, aware that as long as he remained seated while she was standing, there was a perceived imbalance of power. He came around the desk, to decrease the distance, then leaned against it with his hands braced to either side of him. All the while her eyes remained on him and he puzzled over the disconnect, when things had become this strained between them. It had been going on for longer than the past all actuality, probably around the time she started heading up solo missions or heading up paired missions with Jean.

"I'm taking care of class and Xavier's business. I've got everything in hand, Storm."

She folded her arms. "If you didn't, would you pass along any part of your load?" she asked him, and while the question was worthy her dark eyes were accusing.

"Would you trust me if I said I did?" Scott returned, fighting the urge to mirror the pose and cross his own arms. All they needed in the room was an increase in the defensive, belligerent tone to this encounter. He had to handle this right, not because it was what Xavier would want - it was - but because it was something that had to be taken care of, going forward.

Her mouth opened to speak but if there were words, they stuck. She started a word and cut herself off, started another and that shut down as well. At last her arms tightened, knuckles whitening, and she frowned. "Scott. You have to understand. What I did was not... I did not intend..." Her brow knit and she looked away.

If either one of them ever apologized, surely the world would end, Scott thought with a trace of humor, but he was irritated with the soft-shoe routine. They'd known each other too long to dance around the truth. "Didn't intend to call me out in front of all the X-Men past and present?" he filled in the blank.

Ororo's chin snapped up and Scott knew he'd said the wrong thing.

"Look," she began, her voice clipped. "You've been gone a long time. Even before you were missing, presumed dead. You left this school, what were we supposed to do? A week before Xavier died, he was talking about leaving the school to me."

"Well, he didn't," Scott bit out. Now he was angry. "I know I was not in the best of shape when I got back, Storm, but--"

"Ha!" Storm interjected, her blue eyes rolling like fast-moving clouds. "That's an understatement, Summers, you were barely with us for many months before--"

"--BUT, I'm here now!" he finished, raising his voice to speak over her. "I'm back, and things are different. Everything's changed."

"It has changed, it's changed so fast I wonder that you don't realize all the ways it has, because you haven't been a part of it!" Storm cried out, one arm snapping out in a broad gesture.

Scott opened his mouth to snap back and it drained out of him, the fight and the will to deal with this circular argument and any vestige of hope that Storm still harbored respect for him. He leaned back against the solid fixture of the desk and passed a hand over his face. "You--"

Movement caught his eye and he glanced up at the same time someone's heavy boot knocked the door, pushing it against the wood-paneled wall with a clack. "I ain't gonna ask if it's a bad time 'cause I know it is and I'm coming in anyhow," Logan proclaimed, sauntering into the room and hooking the door with his boot. He pushed it shut behind him and raised both hands as if to indicate he was surrendering, or coming in peace.

"This is private--" Ororo began.

"No it ain't," Logan countered, lowering his brows and returning her glare with one of his own. "If it had been, the damned door would've been shut, for one. This is a great way to keep all the kids respectin' the both of you, by the way. What half the mansion didn't hear, the other half has probably told 'em by now."

"What are you doing here?" Ororo asked him directly, turning with her arms still crossed firmly before her.

Logan turned a wolfish grin on her. "What do you think? I'm here to beat up Cyclops, here. What else is worth stickin' around for?"

"Oh," Ororo said, looking from him to Scott. "I...didn't know you'd been released." Her defensiveness was mingled with a touch of chagrin.

Scott shrugged. "Didn't exactly have an opportunity to mention," he said, keeping his tone light and easy. He'd made a mistake again, letting it get personal when he should be keeping things strictly professional in dealing with Storm.

"Logan, why are you helping him?" Storm asked, direct as ever. She raised pale brows as she aimed that question at the man. "The two of you haven't exactly been best friends, after all." She chuckled as if she'd tossed out a particularly funny anecdote.

Scott kept silent and turned his head away, though he watched both their faces from the corner of his eye. He wanted to know the answer just as much, truth be told. He'd been wondering the same thing himself.

Logan was quiet for a long moment, then he spoke up at last. "What you wanted wasn't a fair fight, darlin'. I'm sticking it out to make sure it's more so." He grinned again, a focused expression - the balance of his concentration in that baring of teeth. "Plus, least this way it's less likely the younger Summers will get pissed with you for takin' advantage of Slim's stubborn-ass sense of pride. He woulda fought you right away, you know, before he reconditioned."

"Hello, still here," Scott interjected, tone striving for rock-hard.

"Yeah, and it's a damn good thing you are," Logan said, turning in his direction. He crooked a sardonic brow in Ororo's direction. "Never thought I'd say that, huh, Storm? But you know - you have to - that there's things only Scott can do. Just as there's things only you can do for this place and the kids in it."

A spell of silence fell over them again, and Scott was content to let it play out. First off, because he never thought Logan would say such things, either. And also because Logan's response to his still here reminded him of the ways in which he almost hadn't been. He couldn't expect to pick things up where he'd left off as if nothing had happened. He'd broken Storm's trust, and probably a lot of the kids' too come to think of it, then he almost went off and got himself killed. At the time, he'd thought he had been going mad. Now he was alive, but there were still consequences.

"No," Storm said, and a knot formed in Scott's stomach. "No, I never did think you'd come to play the voice of reason, Logan." She put hands on her hips and studied him with a puzzled expression.

"Can't even blame Xavier for meddling," Logan said, his voice gruff. "Apparently I have a 'dense psyche,' whatever that's worth."

"Well," she said, turning and striding for the door. "I'll leave you to it." She left without another word.

Scott was tempted to scrub his hands over his face but he didn't want to betray that much to show how the encounter had staggered him. He had a lot to think about. "Time for the reconditioning?" he prompted, keeping his voice neutral.

Logan turned to look into Scott's glasses. He was expressionless, but his tone edged with irony when he stated, "Yeah, and there's a damn lot of work to do."

Scott shrugged. "I've never had a personal trainer before, but I've had a pretty good grasp on my powers since I first started using the visor."

"Personal trainer?" Logan gave him a shark's grin. "You're going to think I'm your personal drill sergeant from Hell by the time we're done, Slim. And who said anything about powers? You're not going to see your battle visor or the inside of the Danger Room for a week, minimum."

"You're kidding." Scott stared.

The uncompromising expression Logan turned on him might as well have been granite.

Not kidding.